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May 2002
Vol. 5, No. 5, p 11.
news in brief

Risky rides

opening artIf the names Cyclone, Tower of Terror, and Gravity-Defying Corkscrew sound like apparatuses designed to knock a screw loose in your head, studies now show they probably do. An article in the January 2002 Annals of Emergency Medicine reports that an increase in head, neck, and back trauma linked with neurological symptoms is due to high G forces on the new roller coasters. Whether a roller coaster ride’s G force is dangerous depends on three things: the magnitude of the force, the direction in which it pulls one’s body, and how long it lasts. The authors evaluated reports of amusement park injuries and fatalities that were printed in the medical literature as well as data collected from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. On the basis of the data, the authors concluded that of an annual 900 million amusement park visitors, 1 in 124,000 roller coaster riders will require medical attention, 1 in 15 million will require hospitalization, and the risk of fatal injury on a roller coaster is 1 in 150 million.

There is a fear that these numbers have been greatly underestimated be cause of federal legislation enactedin 1981that does not require fixed-site amusement theme parks, such as Six Flags and Disney World, to report injuries and fatalities or to undergo accident investigations by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

On the basis of medical reports, some legislators have proposed limiting the G-force levels of roller coasters to less than 4 G. In the past 10 years, 15 cases of life-threatening brain injuries have been reported. Although the risk of injury seems low, competition among amusement parks is growing to build faster, more thrilling rides; as a result, the risk of riding a roller coaster is bound to increase.


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